Monday, 24 April 2017

It seems like the swans on the Mire Loch might have settled down to breed at last. They have built two nests, but, sadly, have decided to use the one that is more difficult to see into, so that will make it a bit more tricky for us to keep a track of eggs etc. They're a little late in settling, presumably lots of time spent fighting with the second pair that was around. We'll keep you posted. Liza.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

I was checking sheep on our land at Lumsdaine this morning, and spotted a few mounds of thrift just starting to come into bloom, alongside some sea campion. It was a beautiful morning and you can see St Abb's Head in the background, jutting out into the sea. Lizy

Thrift and Sea Campion with a view towards St Abb's Head

Friday, 21 April 2017

First sighting of minke whales, at least four of them, including a youngster, of Coldingham Bay earlier today. Not by me, worst luck! That's early in the season, its usually more like July or August when we start to see them. I wonder if its going to be a good year for whales - lets hope so! Picture borrowed from the net to give you an idea of what to look out for. Liza.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The cliffs and stacks are starting to fill up with guillemots, and it's just a couple of weeks until we expect the first eggs to appear. Lizy

Sunday, 16 April 2017

A beautiful Easter Saturday yesterday. Wall to wall sun, a bit of a chilly breeze, but always good to blow away the cobwebs. Loads of people were out and about on the reserve enjoying themselves, and the forecast is good for today too. Not so sunny, but the wind has dropped right out. Here's a wee set of photos to give you a flavour. Liza.

Blue sky, yellow gorse, the small of coconut, the buzzing of bumble bees and the twittering of linnets...

There is much argie bargie going on with the mute swans on the Mire Loch. Two pairs are vying for the territory, lots of chasing, both in the air and on the water, and some fighting too. The body language in this shot speaks for itself - the pursuer is not amused, and the pursued is paddling as fast as it can!

Someone has been having fun stone stacking at Burnmouth Harbour - getting ready for the World Stonestacking Championships in Dunbar next weekend perhaps?

The reserve car park was full to capacity - there is more parking down in the village, so don't let it put you off!

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Another sign of spring at St Abb's Head - our Assistant Ranger has started. Zander started with us in the middle of last week, and will be with us until the end of September. Here's a picture of him starting to get to grips with some seabird monitoring at Nunnery Point. For the first half of the summer he will be concentrating on monitoring the breeding success of guillemots and acting as a Pop-up Ranger around the Reserve - so keep on the look out for him! Liza.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Out on the clifftops today, taking a look at how the seabird breeding season is getting on. The shags look totally spendiferous, one might even say shagtastic, at this time of year. Their plumage is fresh, so the irridescent green shows beautifully, and the shag of feathers on their heads (from which they get their name) are very prominent (its all to do with attracting a mate). My camera was on full zoom, so not the best picture ever, but it gives you the gist. Liza.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Lizy and I were out at Abbey St Bathams doing an offroad driving refresher course today. We were so busy concentrating that we forgot to take any pictures so I have had to borrow one off the net. We may not have done anything quite as extreme as this, but it certainly felt like it sometimes! Liza.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

This year's events programme...

We have expanded our events programme this year - why not check it our on our website at

If you fancy coming on a seabird cruise, don't delay in booking, they sell out fast!  Liza.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Here's an image of Tom Nash, from Raptor Aerial Imaging, filming with a drone at Foul Bay today. The National Trust for Scotland have a policy about flying drones from or over our land - we haven't gone down the line of a total ban as other organisation have, but we do insist that folk seek permission from the relevant Property Manager before doing so. In this way we can balance to duty of care we have for our properties and the wildife and visitors in them with the fact that these machines really do help you see things literally from a different angle. Liza.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

A beautiful day here at St Abb's Head, the perfect spring morning to discover the first Shag egg of the season. Every year at St Abb's Head we monitor the productivity of the Shags, meaning how many chicks are produced per nest on average. We mark each nest on a photograph of the study area, and then follow them throughout the season, recording what happens. This is nest number 2 on our White Heugh study plot, and was the only egg spotted out of the 38 nests I recorded today. These birds are definitely front-runners for the first chick of the season, expected sometime in mid-May. Lizy

First Shag egg spotted this year, two Razorbills look on

Monday, 27 March 2017

I was in Newcastle yesterday, down by the quayside. It was great to hear some familiar voices whilst I was there - the kittwakes, on the Baltic art gallery, the Tyne Bridge and even the Guildhall. It was like a home from home! They were in on the cliffs this morning too, along with some guillemots, razorbills and fulmars. At this time of year they are not a guaranteeable spectacle, as they come and go (we don't know why) but when they're not on the cliffs you can still hear their calls from the seas surrounding the cliffs where they hang out instead. Things will start to settle down towards the end of April when the guillemots will start to lay their eggs. Liza.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Another sign of spring - the primroses are starting to come out!  Liza.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

More signs of spring - I spotted these alder catkins in the woodland near the office this morning. Not a brilliant picture (I was having troubles with wind) but you can see the shorter, oval, woody female catkins from last year. These will have released their seed over the winter to get dipersed by wind and water. You can also see the longer male catkins - the darker ones are yet to open, and some are half open, and some fully open, releasing their pollen into the wind. Liza.

Monday, 13 March 2017

A project that I have been working away on over the last couple of months is to produce some pull-up banners for the reserve. The idea is to have something eye-catching that we can use at venues and events, both local and further afield, to promote what is special about St Abb's Head. Last week we took delivery of them - and I am very pleased with how they turned out! If you run an event or have a venue where you think you'd like to display these, please get in touch. Liza.

Why do jumplings jump?

A fascinating and rather amusingly written article - definitely worth a read! Liza.

Friday, 10 March 2017

We had a beautiful day here yesterday at St Abb's Head. Down by the Mire Loch it was warm and sunny and I spotted my first queen bumblebee of the year (a Buff-tailed Bumblebee, I think). Queen bumblebees have been hibernating over the winter and will now be emerging and, after stocking up on some nectar, looking for a suitable site to build their nest, usually under the ground, in tussocks of grass or even in bird boxes. This is why you sometimes see bumblebees in spring flying very close to the ground, as if looking for something, but ignoring any flowers they come across. Lizy

Bumblebee queen soaking up the sun

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

After all the rain we've been having recently the paths around the Mire Loch have been getting a bit muddy, so one of the main tasks on the reserve has been putting down stone to improve the footpaths. Here's a before and after picture of a particularly bad stretch we did this afternoon. Lizy

Mire Loch footpath before and after repair work

Monday, 6 March 2017

You remember a few weeks back I posted about being out on Nunnery Point carrying out a topographical survey of the archaeological features with our Regional Archaeologist, Daniel Rhodes. Here's a link to a 3D image that he has produced of the main feature, Ramparts Hall, from the measurements we took. We didn't quite get to finish the survey, but hope to soon, and will post a link to a more complete picture when we have it. No one is quite sure what Ramparts Hall is - its medieval, and quite big - but still a bit of a mystery. Who knows, maybe in the future further investigations will give us more clues! Liza.

Last week I chaired a meeting of the East Coast Seabird Network (ECSN) in Berwick upon Tweed. The group was set up last year as a way of sharing good (and bad) practice, ideas and population trends between various seabird colonies along the East Coast. It was a great meeting, covering topics as diverse as using lasers to discourage predatory gull species from nesting in tern colonies, to the use of drones in seabird monitoring. It was a great turn out too, with folk from as far afield as Yorkshire and the Firth of Forth, and a whole host of different organisations. Pictured is Keith Clarkson, Site Manager at the RSPB's Bempton Cliffs giving us the low down on kittiwake population trends on his reserve (which are holding steady compared with the major declines we have been seeing up further north). Really interesting and inspiring stuff! Liza.
Last week Lizy, Ed and I were working down at the Mire Dam. Whilst Ed and I carried out repairs to the fence, Lizy offloaded a trailer full of surfacing material for footpath repairs and tidied up the pipe and sandbags that we had used to siphon the water level down with. As you will see, I donned my dry suit yet again and Ed was sporting chest waders to get the fence repaired. It was a tad chilly in the water - 5 degrees according to the thermometer, and so its taking me a while to get my core body temperature back up to normal. In fact, I'm sat at my desk wrapped in a blanket! It was worth is though, the fence is now stock proof and looks much neater than it did this time last year when it was very much a ramshackle affair after a number of years of temporary repairs. Liza.

Last year's Assistant Ranger, Jill, showing off the temporary repairs carried out by her and Lizy after the fence had been taken down to let machinery through to carry out repairs on the dam.
Its a glamorous job, being a ranger - me and Ed showing off the latest in underwater ranger garb!
Out of the water now - whilst I sought warmth in the truck, Ed and Lizy put the finishing touches to the fence. Its now a much neater affair and should see me till my retirement, I hope!

Sunday, 5 March 2017

We've had some lovely sunny days here recently at St Abb's Head, and I was lucky the other day to spot a group of guillemots (and a few fulmars) apparently enjoying the sun on White Heugh. Although most of our 30,000+ guillemots won't return to breed until mid April, they will be visiting the cliffs more and more over the next month, which is a real treat if you, like us, can't wait for the seabird season to begin! Lizy

White Heugh in the sun

Guillemots on White Heugh

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

I was out and about again this morning with Dan, our regional archaeologist and some of our volunteers. Storm Doris made it impossible for us to continue with our topographical survey of Nunnery Point, so we went down to the Boat House at the Mire Loch and surveyed that instead. Today we were working on a hand drawn plan of the building as well as using the electronic theodolite. It was beautiful down there, blue sky, sun and we were pretty sheltered from the wind in the woods there. Here's some photos to give you the gist. Liza.

Dan explains to Bill the finer details of how to do a hand drawn plan of the building.

Painstaking work, Bill is a retired engineer, so he's used to working to such a level of detail.

Ernie and Margaret using the theodolite - a serious business it seems.

Well maybe not serious all the time!

All though this picture looks posed, it wasn't, I just managed to catch everyone in action in one shot! Left to right - Ernie, Margaret, Dan, Bill, Ed and Jean.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Another morning out on the reserve with our Regional Archaeologist, Dan, and our local volunteers.  This week, half of the team were carrying on the work at Nunnery Point, taking the measurements required for producing a topographical map of the headland and its archaeological features of interest.  The other half were using the tablet based system for monitoring the condition of all of our archaeological sites on the reserve - there's a lot of them about, so it takes a while!  We were supremely lucky with the weather again, and it was great to hear the fulmars cackling on the cliffs and guillemots gurgling calls from the sea.  That's what you call a grand day out! Liza.

Margaret, Bill and Dan carrying out a topographical survey of Nunnery Point.

Ed takes Ernie, Jack, Margaret and Bill through how to use the tablet based archaeological condition monitoring system, whilst Lizy gives advice from the sidelines!

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

We've had a fantastic day out on the head this morning with our volunteers and National Trust for Scotland archaeologist Daniel Rhodes. We were mainly investigating the mystery building at the end of Nunnery point (see picture with kite). Using a special kite and camera kit we took some aerial photos of the site, and also mapped the outline of the building using a laser range finder. It was a very fun and interesting day so we're looking forwards to our next archaeology session in a couple of weeks' time.  Lizy

Jack flies a kite over the site of the mystery building on Nunnery point
Daniel shows Ernie, Margaret and Jean how to use the laser range finder...

...while Jack provides a target for them to mark the corner of the building

Monday, 30 January 2017

It's been a cold few days here at St. Abb's Head with temperatures falling below zero for the last 5 nights in a row. As a result the Mire Loch has nearly completely frozen over, with most of our waterfowl concentrated into a small area of open water near the middle of the Loch. Today I spotted Mallard (pictured), Wigeon, Tufted Duck, and Coot. Lizy

View of frozen Mire Loch and boathouse
Two male Mallards, Anas platyrhynchos, one in the water, one standing on ice

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

St Abbs has had great media coverage in the last week or so.

A piece about breeding seals on NTS land up at Lumsdaine on ITV Border Life on Friday 20th (the bit about us starts at c 12 mins 30 secs, although the rest of the programme is interesting too!).

Then there is BBC Radio Scotland's Out Of Doors, a programme that was due to be aired on the 14th Jan but ended up being aired on the 21st, so kind of back to back with the TV piece.  Myself and Sarah Russell from St Abbs & Eyemouth Voluntary Marine Reserve talk about what makes the area such a fantastic place to enjoy being Out of Door (starts at about 20 mins); David Wilson and Paul Crowe talk about St Abbs Independent Lifeboat (about 36 mins); and Jim Evans talks about the 125 Memorial Sculpture in Eyemouth commemorating the Black Friday fishing disaster (at about 64 mins).  There's also an interesting piece on harbour porpoises at about 49 mins.

Why not check them out?  Liza.

Friday, 20 January 2017

This winter we have really been making inroads into the gorse that is invading our species-rich grasslands.  But what does gorse-bashing, as its affectionally known, really involve?
Firstly, you have to decide which areas of gorse are causing issues and which are not.  Gorse, is a native plant, and is attractive to wildlife of all kinds, so is not bad per se, and we certainly do not want to get rid of it all.  But as gorse is pretty well protected by its prickles against all but the hardiest grazers, if it were left unchecked, we would have a monoculture of gorse and no meadow species.

We are starting on the smaller areas, and working from the outer edges of the "area of invasion".  This is because these are the areas that will have been under gorse cover for the least amount of time and so will have been less effected by the presence of gorse (nutrients increased by rotting foliage and a bountiful seed bank) and so we are likely to get a faster recovery to a species rich grassland.

Then you need to cut down the gorse, as low to the ground as possible, so as not to leave trip hazards.  The stumps are then treated with herbicide to prevent regrowth, this has to be done within minutes of the stems being cut.  After that, the cut brash needs is put into big dumpy bags which are dragged to a fire site and burned.  Burning is not done directly on the ground, but is on sheets of corrugated tin raised on concrete blocks.  This prevents the fires from scarring the ground (which can cause erosion of the bare, thin soil) and fertilisation of the ground by the ashes, which we take off site once they are cold.

So its all very hard work and time consuming.  Luckily we have received a generous private donation this year, and this has meant that we have been able to employ Lizy, our Ranger, for the full twelve months.  In turn, having Lizy here full time has meant that we have been able to take on an Assistant Ranger, Ed, for 4 months this winter, and he and our weekly gang of local volunteers have been helping with the effort.  Lizy's presence has also meant that we have been able to have a dozen or so of the NTS Lothain Conservation Volunteers out on site for two weekends over the winter, and that has had a tremendous impact. 

Here's a series of images to help put you in the picture.  Liza.
Photo taken May 2016 - gorse in flower so showing up well
Photos taken January 2017 - areas removed highlighted

NTS Lothian Conservation Volunteers working hard in the wind and rain in October 2016
Ed and Lizy hard at work bag dragging and fire loading

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Regular readers might remember that I went out to our land at Lumsdaine with a film crew last November, to film the breeding seals. Well, the fruits of our labours will be being aired on ITV's Border Life this Friday (20th January). If you aren't able to watch it live, you can catch up online at: Worth a watch, there should be some great seal footage. Liza.
Out and about last week with Mark Stephen from BBC Radio Scotland's Out of Doors programme. He was doing a piece on the importance of the new St Abbs Independent Lifeboat to locals and visitors to the area alike. We at the National Trust for Scotland have been staunch supporters of the campaign to make sure St Abbs retains a lifeboat, right from the start. 50,000 people visit St Abb's Head National Nature Reserve each year, so it is inevitable that some will need emerge...ncy assistance on ocassions. With a lifeboat based at St Abbs, and it being capable of 45 knots (its the fastest rescue vessel in the country) help can arrive literally within minutes.
Unexpectedly we got to go out on the boat and experience what it can do first hand - a fantastic experience. With the state of the art vessel, and the highly trained crew, who, as fishermen, dive boat operators and dive instructors, know this stretch of coast like no one else, we are all in safe hands.
The programme is due to be aired at 6.30am this coming Saturday, 20th January.
Pictured below, Mark Stephen and Sarah Russell from St Abbs and Eyemouth Voluntary Marine Reserve.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

We had a great day today with the National Trust for Scotland's Lothian conservation volunteers who came out to help us with our gorse bashing. Behind them you can see the enormous mountain of gorse which they cut down and dragged to our fire site. Normally there are only two of us who work on practical tasks, so having 11 people makes an enormous difference in the amount of work we can get done. Thanks very much to everyone who came out and helped. Lizy

NTS Lothian conservation volunteers

Thursday, 5 January 2017

I went for my New Year walking the bounds this morning (it was a tad too breezy to be out on the cliff path yesterday). I am pleased to say that everything seems to be as I left it before the festive break! It was stunning out there - frosty, sunny, blue sky, hardly a breath of wind. Glad to see a few other folk out on the reserve too. Liza.